A family enjoys some leisure time in the waters behind their luxury catamaran.

A Complete Catamaran Guide

There you are, out on the water when a strange craft approaches.  Is it a sailboat? It sure looks like one until it turns to face you.  That’s when you notice this boat doesn’t have just one hull. It has two hulls and it’s called a catamaran.

Catamarans are unique, and highly stable watercraft.  We’ll explore all the ins and outs of sailing the waters in one of these weird, and awesome multi-hulled craft.  Join me as we explore the wild world of sailing catamarans.

A small sailing catamaran sits on a beach.
A small sailing catamaran

A History Of The Catamaran

It is believed that the first people to use a catamaran design were those living in Australasia.

A map showing the region where the catamaran originated.
The origin of the catamaran is believed to be southeast Asia.

The succession of boat design in this region was actually very interesting.  The beginning of boats in the area was simple, albeit conventional rafts. These were fashioned from logs strewn together with plant fiber lashings such as those formed using bamboo fiber.  

Catamaran Evolution

An info graphic showing the progression of the evolution of the catamaran.
The Evolution Of The Catamaran And Trimaran. – By Obsidian Soul – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75764398

The conventional raft gave way to a minimal raft.  This design was basically a conventional raft with two cross beams added in the form of logs.  These would be eventually hollowed out to improve buoyancy.

The next step in the evolution of boats in the Australasian region was the double canoe.  This proved to be the first real catamarans.  

After some time, the form evolved further into the asymmetrical double canoe design.  In this design, one canoe was large and the other attached canoe was smaller.

The asymmetrical design quickly evolved into the single-outrigger boat like the one shown in the photo below.

A monohull canoe with an attached exterior outrigger is shown in this file photo.
A canoe with an outrigger, one of the forms of early catamaran design.

The final stage of the evolution of the catamaran in the region was to gain a second outrigger.  This in effect created the trimaran with the single central hull and dual outriggers.

Eye Witness Accounts Of Catamarans

In 1697, William Dampier wrote of witnessing a type of seafaring vessel off the coast of Coromandel.  He noted how the locals called the type of boat a catamaran. He also noted that it had multiple hulls (logs) and that they were small vessels that the person operating would have to hang partway into the water, straddling the hull (log).

The name catamaran came from the Tamil.  And yet, it was easily applied by the European visitors to the two hulled sailing vessels that sped across the water in the region.

Although Dampier may have described the catamaran in the 1690s, the type of boat was actually used as early as the 5th century by the Tamil Chola dynasty.  They used boats to move their troops from one island to another. Using this design of boat allowed them to travel heavy, travel quickly and was partially responsible for the conquering of neighboring Burma, Malaysia, and Indonesia.


Building A Boat – Basics Of Catamaran Construction

A boat is usually thought of as being a single-hulled vessel that travels along the surface of the water.  It can have multiple types, shapes, and designs of the hull. However, it is often only thought of as having a single hull.  But, what if it had two hulls? Would that be like taking two separate boats, and making a raft over both of them? In essence, that is exactly what a catamaran is:  two boats made into one.

Advantages Of Multiple Hulls

  • More stability than a monohull
  • Wide supporting base allows for larger sails than monohull craft of the same length
  • Hull does not require the deep-running keel of a standard monohull sailboat
  • Less hull drag in the water than a monohull
  • Less power required to drive a catamaran forward than a monohull boat

Disadvantages Of Multiple Hulls 

  • Due to multiple hulls, construction is more expensive than a monohull design
  • Catamaran speed relies on lightweight materials to make a lightweight craft.  This also drives up the cost of construction.
  • Extra engineering requirements for multi-hull craft also increase the cost of construction.

Conclusion?  Well, it looks to me like everything about catamarans points towards superiority over monohulls in nearly every way.  But, you get what you pay for. I think the same thing likely applies to cars too. For instance, I have a performance car that cost me about 10k more than the equivalent non-sports car within the same class. 

Yet to drive the vehicle, it performs so much better than the normal version of the car, it really speaks volumes to the difference between a common vehicle, and a performance one.

Speaking of performance vehicles, let’s take a look now at the different kinds and uses of a catamaran.


Catamaran Types

Commercial Catamarans – Ferries

Catamarans are often used as a ferry to transport people and vehicles across bodies of water as shown in this photo.
A catamaran ferry travels across the water.

One of the most common uses for a catamaran is the commercial use of the vehicle design when it comes to ferries.  This is likely due to the wide, flat deck possibilities of a catamaran versus a monohulled boat. Not only that, but the catamaran is also a much more stable bodied vessel.  This again makes it a superior design for transporting larger land vessels like trucks and so forth. They can easily drive on the ferry without fear of the ferry tipping over.

Some ferries are designed for taking vehicles, like the one you might find in the city of Toronto.  Where it transports cars from the mainland to Toronto Island. Others are designed specifically with the sole purpose of transporting people. I took a look at one such ferry that operates in Germany.  Take a look at the following case study.

Commercial Use Case Study – The Ferry

The FRS Helgoline is a ferry catamaran operating out of Flensburg, Germany, close to the Danish border.

A map showing Northern Germany, Denmark and Poland.
A map showing Northern Germany, Poland, and Denmark.

According to the ferry company’s website, the ferry runs using four main engines which are run to a capacity of 12,182 hp combined.  This blasts this ferry at a speed of 35 knots or 65 km/hour. This is equivalent to 40 miles per hour. That’s pretty good considering the size and weight of the ship body this catamaran can carry.

Speaking of capacity, the ship can carry 680 passengers. At 56.4 meters long (185 feet) by 14 meters wide (45.9 feet), that’s a decent passenger capacity. 

Catamaran Passenger Capacity Versus Monohull Boat Passenger Capacity 

The general rule for calculating passenger capacity for a boat is as follows.

Length x Width / 15 = Passenger Capacity

Therefore, the FRS Helgoline should have a calculated capacity calculated as follows.

185 x 45.9 / 15 = 566  

But it actually has a capacity of 680 which is a 20% increase in capacity over a standard monohull.

For comparison, let’s look at a superyacht.  A 48.5m (159 feet) long by 10.7m (35 feet) beam (width of the boat) Palmer Johnson Supersport 48 (valued at about $28.5 million dollars) should have a capacity calculated as follows.

159 x 35 / 15 = 371

In short, 26 feet of difference in length equates to 309 fewer passengers.  It is almost half of the capacity of the catamaran at 26 feet longer length.

A super yacht sits like a golden blade floating in the water.
This superyacht looks more like a golden blade than a boat.

Photo courtesy of https://sysyachtsales.com/

Commercial Catamarans – Service Vehicles

In port in Australia, a service catamaran sits docked in this photo.
A service catamaran in the waters of the port in Australia.

Although Catamarans are typically used as ferries due to their stability and ability to carry wide loads on their flat decks, there are many different service catamarans out there as well.  From a support vessel to a crew transfer or search and rescue, catamarans are a solid and stable platform to build a ship on.

This is the Ardea which is a 20 meter (65.6 feet) catamaran to be used for crew transport and as a support ship.  This ship was built by the Echo Marine Group and delivered to Western Australia in early 2019. This particular vessel is in the service of the Cape Preston Sino Iron Project.  

Catamarans are used all around the world, for a variety of tasks, not just ferries or support craft.

Commercial Catamarans – Cruise Lines

A large red and white catamaran cruise ship sits idle in the waters in front of a bustling metropolis in this photo.
A large catamaran cruise ship in the water in front of a metropolis.

Now these are the catamarans we all want to be aboard, aren’t they?  Due to the wide stance, these ships can feature massive halls and wide-open interior areas.  These ships are stable, and some would say even more stable and safer than monohull design ships.  

There are many cruise ship catamarans in use today around the world.  Some of the more ‘famous’ catamaran cruises are those which investigate the Galapagos Islands.  There are several high-end, small fleet, cruise lines operating to the Galapagos which utilize catamaran design vessels as their primary ship type. 

These ships can be extremely comfortable and stable and often offer some reprieve to those who may otherwise feel seasick. It won’t stop the feeling, but the more stable the hull, the less the boat rocks around.

Military Catamarans

The USNS Spearhead races forward along the water in this file photo.
USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1) during sea trials in 2012 By US Navy – US Navy Military Sealift Command: http://www.msc.navy.mil/msfsc/news.asp?show=1340737045&edition=072012/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23173108

Catamarans make excellent military transport vessels.  They are stable and the potential to have a large, flat and wide deck for transporting land craft, troops or acting as a landing pad for vertical take-off aerial craft.  The stability of the two hulls makes the vessel an excellent candidate for military use, and thus it is used for said purpose.

A photo of the rear of the USNS Spearhead - a military catamaran.
Stern view of USNS Spearhead, with helicopter By Phil Beaufort – https://www.flickr.com/photos/usnavy/9568004581/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28407948

As you can clearly see in the image of the USNS Spearhead, the rear of the vessel has a moveable ramp that can be used for loading and unloading land vehicles.  The interior bay of the craft is visible in the image as well, a large area for storage of vehicles, supplies and more. The crane arm on the back of the ship also shows how it is a versatile craft, set up to act as an excellent support craft with a helicopter landing pad and ample storage and freight capacity.

Recreational Catamarans

Siting on a beach, a small catamaran sail is set against the wind swept clouds and blue sky.
A small sailing catamaran sits on a beach.

Catamaran Personal WatercraftThe wind is in your hair, the warm spray from the hull cutting over the edge of each wave as you skip over the water.  That is life, let me tell you. Personal watercraft have come a long way over the years and the small one, two, three and four-person catamarans have come a long way as well. 

This image shows a homemade catamaran.
A homemade catamaran with a wooden deck.
Two sailors ready their personal watercraft sailing catamaran.
Two sailors on board a Hobie Catamaran

Depending on the options, you can get a small one or two-person catamaran for as little as $1500 new.  That might be an inflatable though. There are some very nice, rigid hull designed catamarans for 1-4 people that range from $3500 to $15000.  And these are basically open, personal watercraft like that shown in the image below.

Using a small catamaran can be quite challenging to learn at first.  Sailing is not for the faint of heart. It requires skill, technique, knowledge of the wind and sea, and a bit of hard work.  But it can be fun, rewarding and a great way to catch some sun and fresh air out on the water. It’s a relatively GREEN sport as well.   Given the use of sails over gas-powered motors that is.

‘Sailing Cats’ – Sailing Catamarans – Yacht & Luxury Class

This photo shows a luxury sailing catamaran yacht.
A luxury sailing catamaran

Here’s where we get into the dreamy boats of the rich and famous.  I priced out a small 43’ luxury Leopard 40 sailing catamaran. Even before I added any extras at all, the base price was $399,000 USD.  I imagine if I added a few of the multiple extras available, and some tax, freight and that sort of thing, I’m easily in half a million dollars.  And that’s the smallest base model.

There are all kinds of luxury catamaran shipbuilders across the world.  From Asia to Europe and The Americas, it seems any major boating country has at least one company building luxury catamarans.  It’s weird that you don’t see more of them on the water though, don’t you think?

Being sailing vessels, these luxury cats require some training in sailing before you get behind the wheel.  And considering the price point, I would definitely want to be at least a semi-decent sailor with some good few years experience under my belt before I would comfortable at the helm of a half-million-dollar sailing cat.  It’s all relative I suppose. I imagine a billionaire might bat an eye at the prospect of wrecking a half-million-dollar boat. But to me, and most of you reading this, that’s likely a lot of money.

‘Power Cats’ – Powered Catamarans

A powered catamaran is shown in this file photo.
A powered catamaran.

The powered catamaran is one of my favorite boats.  They have sort of a muscle car appearance with the wide and often tall front end of the boats.  I find it to be reminiscent of a large air intake on the front hood of a rally race car like the Subaru WRX, for instance.  These boats are fast, they are stable and handle very well. Catamarans are often considered the boat of choice for long sea voyages due to their stability.  

A powered catamaran will definitely cost more than a powered monohull boat of the same length.  Why? Well, the powered catamaran has one crucial downside. That is, it needs two engines. One for each of the two hulls.  Otherwise, it’s off balance for propulsion. These two engines or motors have to be in sync with each other or again, the propulsion will be off-balance.  Because they have two motors, they have double the maintenance when it comes to maintaining the propulsion system.

More components also means a greater chance of things breaking down.  In essence, it doubles the chances of the ship having a motor break down. The saving grace is that should one motor break, they have a backup, even if it does mean very unbalanced propulsion.  In contrast, a monohull vessel of the same length may only have half the chance of motor failure due to only having one motor, but if that one motor breaks, then what? Call for help, that’s what.  A cat would have a struggling chance to get itself back to port. A monohull would be dead in the water unless it was carrying spare parts or another motor onboard somewhere.


Catamaran Frequently Asked Questions

What is a catamaran cruise?

A catamaran cruise is simply a cruise on a dual hull design boat.  Often used for river cruises, the catamaran which is used as cruise ships are often considerably smaller than their giant monohulled counterparts.

What is the purpose of a catamaran?

A catamaran is a design for a boat that utilizes two hulls.  Due to the flat, platform-like-potential for the deck of the boat, the catamaran is often purposed with transporting materials, vehicles, and people.  For instance, catamarans are quite often used as ferries.

Is catamaran safe?

Catamaran are very safe water craft.   The design of riding on two hulls separated by a gap in between, in essence is like giving a car a double-wide wheel base.  The wider the stance, the more stable the craft, from side to side anyway. And if the length of the boat is proportional to the width, then it becomes an extremely stable craft.  That is why catamarans are often considered the best to be used for long voyages. Yes, catamaran are safe.

What is the difference between a catamaran and a sailboat?

A traditional sailboat is a deep, monohull vessel that has at least one mast extending high into the air above the deck to hold sails.  A catamaran refers to the design of a dual-hull boat and really has nothing to do with sails. Although, catamaran do make excellent sailing boats as well, they are quite capable of acting as power boats and do not require sails if they have the correct amount of powered motors to propel them.  Sailboats, although also able to be powered if a motor is provided, are traditionally monohull and wind-powered exclusively.

Do catamarans have small interiors?

The size of an interior cabin on a boat is typically proportional to the size of the boat itself.  If a catamaran has above-deck cabins, they will likely be able to be of a larger design than those you would find on deck of a monohull boat.  This is because a catamaran has a much wider footprint than a monohull boat of the same length. This extra width would allow for larger on deck cabins.  

How much does a catamaran cost?

A personal watercraft (1-2 person) inflatable catamaran will run you anywhere from $1500-$12000 USD, depending on the quality and features.  The rigid hull catamarans of the same size start at about $4500 USD.

A small cabin cruiser type of catamaran will typically start at about $60000 for a small base model and the price just goes up and up depending on size and features.

For Instance, a 40’, 3 cabin with 1 washroom cat will cost you about $500,000 USD for the base model.  They are considerably more expensive that a monohull of the same length. However, the trade-off is greater stability and a smoother, more comfortable ride.

Is a catamaran more work to maintain?

Technically yes.  Due to having two hulls and if powered, two motors and likely also water jets, this means you have double the oil changes of a boat that would have a single motor.  Once you get past the basic engine and hull maintenance, a catamaran is not that much more work than a monohull ship of the same length.  

The trouble with catamarans in terms of maintenance, is that once they reach a certain length, the width becomes more than a standard lane on the road.  That being said, if you ever need to transport the boat via land, it can be quite the challenge. Especially if you need to pay to have a police escort for an extra-wide trailer.  And special licensing might be involved as well.

What is the difference between a catamaran and a trimaran?

A trimaran is shown in this photo.
A futuristic-looking trimaran.

A catamaran is a dual hull boat.  In other words, it has two hulls. A trimaran has three hulls.  

Is a catamaran considered a yacht?

According to Oxford dictionary, a yacht is a medium-sized sailboat equipped for cruising or racing.  A catamaran, on the other hand, is a boat with two hulls. Therefore, a catamaran can most certainly also be a yacht.  And likewise, if a yacht has two hulls, then it is a catamaran as well.

Can you get seasick on a catamaran?

Seasickness occurs when a person feels nauseous from the swaying motion of a rocking ship.  These feelings may be lessened on a catamaran, due to their extra stability. However, a catamaran may be slightly more stable than a monohull of the same length, but it is still a boat.  And it will still make someone who experiences seasickness continue to feel the ill effects.

Are catamarans more stable in rough seas?

Catamarans are known to be more stable than monohull ships of the same length.  This is why catamarans are often the ship type of choice for long sea voyages due to their stability.

Why do catamarans capsize?

Catamarans are not known for capsizing.  The larger vessels that is anyway. But, it does happen from time to time.  Catamarans are known for their stability, so typically if a capsize event should occur, it is typical for them to be extreme circumstances.  

Personal watercraft catamarans are a different story though.  These are in fact known for tipping over. Not because they are less stable than their monohull counterparts of the same length.  But instead, because they are able to go considerably faster than monohull personal watercraft of the same length (not including powered craft though).  This is due to the sailing cats being able to have a larger sail than a small monohull sailboat of the same length.

Due to the extra sail, they are able to travel faster than monohull sailboats of the same length.  This allows them to whip around on the water and at higher speeds, whipping your cat about quick can easily send it over sideways. Extra speed means fast turns carry momentum in the direction of travel and that extra speed equates to tipping over if turned too fast.  To sum up, they capsize due to user error or extreme events.

Which is safer, a catamaran or a monohull?

Due to the extra stability of having a wider footprint than a monohull, a catamaran of the same length is the safer vessel.

Are catamarans safer than sailboats?

The same rule applies to stability versus the length of the hull.  A cat will always be the more stable length for length. However, due to their ability to go much faster than a monohull sailboat, this kind of cancels out some of the added safety due to stability.  With that in mind, they may just be about the same but there is one generalization we can make when comparing the safety of catamarans vs sailboats: At the same speed, and of equal length, sailing or power catamaran will be safer than a monohull sailboat.

How fast can catamarans go?

The speed a catamaran can go is entirely dependent upon the hull design, weight of the vessel, the strength of propulsion (be it wind or powered) and so on.  The general rule is that in terms of sailing cats vs monohull sailboats, a cat of equal length can typically go faster than a sailboat.  

In terms of powered cats vs powerboats, a powered catamaran will typically require less energy to move forward than a monohull of the same sort of hull design (but monohull of course) and thus a cat should, in theory, be able to go faster than a monohull when both are using propulsion that is equal in power.


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